Boston Globe (By Mark Feeney, March 8, 2009)
Le Temps (by Stéphane Bussard, Mardi 23 décembre 2008)
Hurriyet (by Ceylan Yeginsu, Nov 30, 2008)
USINFO (By Vince Crawley, June 4, 2007)
Washington Post (by Philip Kennicott, January 27, 2007)
New York Times (by Roger Cohen, October 16, 2004)
Los Angeles Times (by Kenneth Turan, April 6, 2005)
Reuters (by Bob Tourtellotte April 7, 2005)
Washington Post (by Ann Hornaday, Sunday, April 10, 2005)
Washington Times (by Scott Galupo, April 8, 2005)
Toronto Globe and Mail (by Simon Houpt, April 9, 2005)
The Berkeleyan (by Barry Bergman, Oct 26, 2005)
Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial (April 1, 2006)
Boston Globe, March 8, 2009
When Uncle Sam called the shots
'Selling Democracy' turns a lens on the propaganda films of the Marshall Plan - and how they speak to today's reconstruction and recovery efforts
By Mark Feeney
"All art is to some extent propaganda," George Orwell famously wrote. But what about the reverse - to what extent can propaganda be art? As regards film, that question usually gets posed in terms of totalitarian societies: Sergei Eisenstein's agitprop classic of Soviet cinema, "Battleship Potemkin," say, or Leni Riefenstahl's documentary "Triumph of the Will," about the 1934 Nazi Party rally at Nuremburg.
What about when the propaganda is made by a democracy? More specifically, what about when the democracy is the United States? Well, it tends then to get called "public diplomacy" rather than "propaganda." But the basic question remains, and it's implicitly raised by the series "Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan, 1948-1953."
Sponsored by the Goethe-Institut Boston and Harvard's Center for European Studies, the series is presented by the Academy Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It opens at the Brattle Theatre, in Cambridge, this Thursday and runs through March 17. Accompanying the series are a number of contemporaneous feature films, including Billy Wilder's "A Foreign Affair" and Jacques Tourneur's "Berlin Express."
The two dozen films in the series include documentaries, fiction films, docudramas, even animation.
"There are some real masterpieces among the films we're going to show," Sandra Schulberg said in a telephone interview last month. A veteran film and television producer, Schulberg curated the series, which she's previously presented at venues ranging from the Berlin Film Festival to the New York Film Festival.
" 'Houen Zo!' " about the rebuilding of Rotterdam, "won an award at the Cannes Film Festival," Schulberg said. " 'The Story of Koula' is certainly a work of art. The animation works are just extraordinary. They're really beautiful and very witty."
The series represents a cross-section of the 282 films extant that the US government funded to make the case for the Marshall Plan with European audiences. Officially known as the European Recovery Program, the Marshall Plan sent $13 billion to Western European governments to aid economic recovery after World War II.
Though funded by the United States, the films were made by European filmmakers. Schulberg noted that Marshall Plan officials strove for an upbeat and forward-looking tone in the films. Officials drew a lesson from the way German audiences had rejected a 1948 film, "Hunger," made by the US military, which blamed postwar conditions on Germany.
An estimated 50 million people saw the films. Until recently, few viewers were Americans. The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act prohibits the domestic screening of US government-funded films that were made to disseminate political messages abroad. In 1990, US Senator John Kerry wrote legislation to waive the prohibition as regards the Marshall Plan films. He did so at the urging of the late Albert Hemsing, the final head of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section, and a Brewster resident.
In a recent telephone interview, the Brattle's creative director, Ned Hinkle, recalled his eagerness when Schulberg approached him about showing the films.
"I'm immediately attracted to historical-document film," Hinkle said, "and seeing how film has been used in the past to change public opinion or how it reflects public opinion. Certainly the prospect of showing a set of films used for propaganda by the US in a context we're not used to, well, this is a whole different cultural milieu. It's really interesting to have the opportunity to see these films."
Schulberg's connection to the films is personal as well as professional. Her father, Stuart Schulberg, served as deputy director and later director of the Paris-based Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section. (Schulberg's family background in film is impressive. Her grandfather B.P. Schulberg headed Paramount Pictures; and Budd Schulberg, her uncle, is the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "On the Waterfront," among other films.)
Schulberg first learned of the Marshall Plan films' existence from a professor of broadcast history who was researching a biography of her father. "We met in Washington and sat down together to watch them for the first time in the spring of 2003, at the National Archives," Schulberg recalled.
"President Bush had just announced 'Mission Accomplished.' For the first time the press was reporting on the reconstruction plan [in Iraq]. So I'm watching these films about American aid to Europe after the war with an awareness of Iraqi reconstruction and infrastructure and all the wide range of issues involved with economic recovery - supposedly post-conflict! - and I found the films eerily relevant. You couldn't be there at that particular moment in time watching those films and not feel you'd been transported back into the future."
Watching those first few films, Schulberg said, launched her on "an effort I'm still at five, almost six years later."
Schulberg built on the work of researcher Linda Christenson, with support from the George C. Marshall Foundation. The more Schulberg dug, the more she learned - and found out how hard it was to learn. Many of the films lacked credits, and records were hard to come by. New films keep being discovered. In November, while in Switzerland interviewing the former head of the Marshall film program's German unit, Schulberg learned of three previously unlisted films.
It's believed that more than 300 were made, but no one can say for sure. For a filmography of those movies that have so far been documented, go to www.marshallfilms.org. And then there's the issue of preserving those films that have been found. Schulberg has spent several years unsuccessfully seeking funds to digitize the films and make them available to the public on disc.
"They didn't even keep a log of what they were doing!" Schulberg said of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section. "The more I began to look at it, quite apart from my father's participation in it, the more I began to think this was an extraordinary effort at public diplomacy, a phrase that didn't exist at the time the films were made."
Asked to distinguish between public diplomacy and propaganda, Schulberg noted with a laugh that "one of the ways that the distinction has been made is our side does public diplomacy and their side does propaganda. I think the more interesting question is to what extent a piece of media offers access to different points of view. And to what extent it builds in a level of persuasion. That's always there, of course, but to what extent it does that in a forthright manner and invites you to analyze it, or whether it really bludgeons you. There's a whole spectrum of approaches.
Schulberg noted, for example, that the Marshall Plan authorities had no political litmus test for filmmakers. "They tended to be European leftists. The team that made 'Island of Faith,' a very stirring docudrama about the citizens of a Dutch island reclaiming their land, were avowed communists."
So much of the enduring interest of the films, Schulberg suggested, relates to that basic issue of where art and propaganda do, or do not, intersect. "How do you talk to the public, how do you engage it?" she said. "My aim in showing the films is not to make pronouncements but invite people to look at them. They're surprisingly relevant - and entertaining. They were made to be shown in movie theaters [as part of a program preceding a standard feature film]. So they had to engage people, or filmgoers would simply make a point of showing up late and missing them!"
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.
Le Temps Mardi 23 décembre 2008
by Stéphane Bussard
La leçon des films du plan Marshall
Lancé en 1947, le plan américain d'aide à l'Europe fut accompagné d'une vaste production cinéma pour convaincre les populations du bien-fondé des valeurs démocratiques et du libre marché.
«Je n'avais pas réalisé à quel point ces films avaient façonné ma conscience, comme celle de millions de petits Européens d'après-guerre.» A la villa Tatiana, résidence de l'ambassadeur des Etats-Unis auprès de l'ONU à Genève, Sandra Schulberg a récemment présenté une série de films sur le plan Marshall réalisés peu après la Seconde Guerre mondiale et méconnus du grand public. Les pellicules ont un demi-siècle, mais elles montrent une facette étonnante de l'opération menée par l'Amérique pour remettre l'Europe sur les rails.
Lancé en juin 1947 par le secrétaire d'Etat américain George Marshall, le plan du même nom consistait à aider l'Europe à stabiliser sa balance des paiements, mais aussi à fournir de l'aide matérielle et technique à hauteur de 13 milliards de dollars (équivalant aujourd'hui à 90 milliards de dollars) pour permettre à 17Etats européens dévastés par la guerre de se reconstruire.
Pour les responsables du plan Marshall, le soutien matériel n'était toutefois pas suffisant. D'où leur choix de recourir largement à l'image, un mode de communication plus à même de provoquer une adhésion de la société européenne au plan américain dans un continent où les ressentiments, l'amertume et la douleur affleuraient encore.
Disséminées pêle-mêle des décennies durant dans les sous-sols des archives de Berlin, Hambourg, Trieste, Linz, Washington ou de l'OTAN à Bruxelles, près de 280 pellicules ont été longtemps oubliées, de sorte qu'on a pris tardivement conscience de leur importance historiographique et de la socialisation qu'elles ont permise. Ils ont été pourtant essentiels pour convaincre les Européens d'embrasser les valeurs démocratiques de l'Amérique.
Productrice de films, Sandra Schulberg se considère comme une «fille du plan Marshall». Née à Paris en 1950, elle découvre cet univers cinématographique méconnu du plan Marshall aux Archives nationales de Washington en 2003, où elle a visionné quelque 190films. Elle décide de mettre sur pied une vaste rétrospective de 25films, Selling Democracy, présentée pour la première fois en Europe au Festival international du film de Berlin en 2004. Aux Etats-Unis, la projection des films du plan Marshall était interdite jusque dans les années 1990 en raison du Smith-Mundt Act, une loi qui interdisait toute propagande destinée aux citoyens américains et financée par leurs impôts.
Pour la productrice américaine qui enseigne à Columbia University à New York, mettre sur pied ce projet, c'est aussi une manière de revisiter l'histoire de son père. En 1950, Stuart Schulberg fut nommé chef de la section cinématographique du plan Marshall au siège de Paris. Peu avant, en qualité d'officier de la marine, il avait été recruté avec son frère Budd pour rassembler des documents cinématographiques du IIIeReich sous la direction de John Ford pour les présenter au procès de Nuremberg en décembre 1945. «Les films du plan Marshall, c'étaient un peu des madeleines de Proust, un voyage dans l'histoire familiale. Ils m'ont rappelé des bribes de pellicules que j'avais vues quand j'avais 2 ou 3 ans, se souvient Sandra Schulberg. Nous continuons maintenant de les présenter dans des villes américaines et ailleurs. Les gens sont bouleversés.»
Ce qui a incité cette dernière à se lancer dans cette aventure, c'est aussi le débat qui faisait rage sur l'Irak en 2003. «Les Américains se déchiraient sur la manière de reconstruire l'Irak après l'intervention américaine en 2003. Il n'y avait pas de stratégie. Le plan Marshall - et en particulier les films qui l'ont accompagné - fournit en réalité des éléments de réponse et une esquisse de solution, ajoute la productrice. Ils montrent que les Etats-Unis peuvent agir de façon multilatérale.»
Dans un article du New York Times, Roger Cohen ne cache pas que les films du plan Marshall tranchent radicalement avec la diplomatie publique américaine de l'après-11 septembre 2001. L'administration de George W. Bush avait engagé une spécialiste de la publicité, Charlotte Beers, pour réaliser des films sur les Etats-Unis et les musulmans. Le problème, souligne Roger Cohen, c'est qu'ils «ont été largement perçus par les pays musulmans comme des produits peu convaincants, paternalistes et inefficaces».
Hurriyet, Sunday, November 30, 2008
by Ceylan Yeginsu
Movies that define hope after tragedy
ISTANBUL - The Marshall Plan films, devised to promote support given to Europeans by the United States after World War II are seen by producer Sandra Schulberg, who visited Istanbul, as shedding an optimistic light on the current global crisis.
Films produced as part of the Marshall Plan after World War II help shed an optimistic light on current global problems, said renowned producer Sandra Schulberg, who screened the films as part of her "Selling Democracy" tour at the Bosphorus University in Istanbul last week.
The Marshall Plan, which takes its name from George C. Marshall the U.S secretary of state at the time, was a program launched by the United States to support Europeans in their recovery after World War II. The Marshall Plan, part of the European Recovery Program, or ERP, has been the most ambitious and profound economic development initiative ever undertaken by a government outside its national borders, according to Schulberg. The cleverness of the plan, said Schulberg, lay not in the sending of money, but in shipping tangible goods such as fuel, fertilizer, food, farm animals and machinery; essential for life and for economic recovery.
Today the U.S. government is engaged in another effort to sell democracy and another recovery program, this time in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Middle East, said Schulberg. The aim of Schulberg’s Selling Democracy tour is to give people a better understanding of what the Marshall Plan was all about. Schulberg, daughter of the late Stuart Schulberg who was the chief of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section, believes the films play an important role in understanding how the Marshall Plan shaped post-war Europe and that there is much to learn from the plan today.
Publicizing lost films
"For the past two years, I have been on a mission to publicize the lost films of the Marshall Plan because they illumine every facet of its grand design. As we look at the wars going on around the world, I believe we have much to learn from the films," Schulberg said.
The films promote the importance of embracing interdependence at difficult times and actively cooperating with each other to overcome language, cultural and currency differences. Marshall’s optimistic philosophy, which was to create a family of nations, is as significant now as it was then, said Schulberg. The tour features 25 extremely rare Marshall Plan films produced to promote U.S. assistance to Europe. They range from documentaries to fiction. The films embody the "can-do" spirit of the Marshall planners and cover many of the assistance schemes that were put into place.
Schulberg showed a film, "Marshall Plan at Work in Turkey," at the Bosphorus University screening last week. The film investigates how the Marshall plan helped Turkey to modernise industries and agriculture. Money was invested in modern machinery, agricultural colleges were opened in order to teach modern methods, better watering systems and dams were built, and roads were resurfaced. All this was aimed at increasing the country's productivity and improving standards of life for Turkish people, the underlying message of the film.
Students were surprised by the film, some commented they had not known the effects the Marshall Plan had on Turkey and were grateful for the insight the film gave. In order to raise further awareness of the Marshall Plan and its impact on European countries, Sandra Schelburg is currently working to restore more of the 300 Marshall Plan films which are in circulation across the world, and include them in her Selling Democracy tour."
THE MARSHALL PLAN
Legacy of Marshall Plan Includes U.S.-European Partnership
04 June 2007
By Vince Crawley,USINFO Staff Writer
Washington -- The Marshall Plan, announced 60 years ago, pledged massive U.S. aid to rebuild Europe, provided a significant morale boost to a war-torn continent and helped lay the groundwork for European unity.
Historians and scholars say that, without the Marshall Plan’s $13 billion in aid, it is unclear how European politics would have evolved. What is clear is that modern Europe -- thanks in part to the Marshall legacy -- is a close partner with the United States in bringing health, education and jobs to other parts of the world.
“The underlying notion of the plan” was to “empower the partner” and show “respect for the other,” says Sandra Schulberg, a filmmaker who is currently on a State Department-sponsored tour of Europe, where she is showing historic films made in the late 1940s to promote the Marshall Plan. Schulberg was born in Paris when her father was chief of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section.
By announcing the Marshall Plan, the United States signaled that it would not retreat into isolationism, as it had done three decades earlier at the end of World War I. However, rather than being a welfare program, the Marshall Plan included important elements of partnership such as requiring participant nations to match U.S. contributions with funds from their own national currencies. And, with Marshall’s prodding, Schulberg said, Europeans were encouraged to “speak with one voice” by cooperating with each other on a regional plan that would meet with U.S. approval.
U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall announced the European Recovery Program (ERP) on June 5, 1947, during a speech at Harvard University in Massachusetts. (See related article.)
Edwina Campbell, a scholar and historian for the U.S. Air Force, said it always is challenging to ask “what if” questions about historic events. “It’s still possible, of course, to postulate that, even without the ERP, Europe would still look pretty much as it does today,” Campbell said June 1 in a State Department-sponsored online discussion. “Because,” she added, “the shock of not receiving political and economic support from the United States might have led to the creation of some effective alternative.”
However, she said, “it’s also possible to construct a very negative scenario, in which post-World War II Europe goes down the same path of economic and political chaos that followed World War I. That’s what leaders in Europe and the United States feared in the late 1940s, and I tend to agree with their assessment.”
Economic and political chaos had led to fascism and Nazism in the 1920s and 1930s, Campbell said, and there was a “realistic fear” in the late 1940s that “it might lead to Soviet-dominated communism” throughout Europe. Campbell is a professor of national security studies at the Air University’s Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, as well as a visiting senior lecturer at the King's College International Policy Institute in London.
Campbell said that a German professor has described the U.S. role in postwar recovery as being a “midwife to Europe.” “When a birth is complex and difficult,” Campbell said, “an engaged and effective midwife is crucial -- and the Marshall Plan was one of the most creative things that the American midwife did 60 years ago.”
Schulberg, the filmmaker, has been touring the United States and Europe for more than three years showing a selection of short documentary and fictional films made six decades ago to explain the Marshall Plan to European audiences. Approximately 300 films were made from 1948 to 1954 to explain the Marshall Plan and its philosophy of Europeans working together to build prosperity and political stability.
“What is compelling about the films [is] they were undertaken by people who were enormously talented and given a great deal of freedom,” Schulberg said. Financed by European countries, the films were mainly made by European directors and were released in multiple languages. Viewed by millions of people, they helped put in pictures and words the ideas of a unified Europe putting itself back together. For example, one film, Me and Mister Marshall, is narrated by a German coal miner who explains how the Marshall Plan was reviving industry. Another film, The Story of Koula, tells the story of a Greek boy who befriends an American farm mule shipped to his country as part of the Marshall Plan.
The films typically steer clear of heavy-handed propaganda, Schulberg said. Europeans in the late 1940s had endured years of Nazi propaganda films, and the Marshall films also were competing with a well-financed Soviet attempt to convince Europeans that the Marshall Plan represented American economic imperialism.
The films make their point with “gentle prodding and encouragement” and are “timeless lessons in international diplomacy,” Schulberg said. The films are in the public domain but largely were forgotten until recent years. In 2004, Schulberg helped organize the showing of 40 Marshall Plan films at the Berlin Film Festival. She since has been touring the United States and Europe with a retrospective known as “Selling Democracy.”
For more information on the Marshall Plan and its impact, see The Marshall Plan's 60th Anniversary.
A transcript of Campbell’s webchat on the Marshall Plan is available on Webchat Station, which also has information on previous and upcoming webchats.
More information on Marshall Plan films can be found on the Selling Democracy Web site.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
Washington Post, January 27, 2007
The Good Old Days Of Selling Democracy
Marshall Plan Films Offer History Lesson In Public Relations
By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
The obvious elephant in the room -- the State Department's Dean Acheson Auditorium yesterday afternoon -- didn't get a mention until about an hour and 40 minutes into the program.
The subject was public diplomacy. The presenter at the forum was Sandra Schulberg, a filmmaker and tireless advocate for the films of the Marshall Plan, a series of propaganda flicks the United States made for European audiences to sell them on democracy, shared economic goals and the hope of a new, peaceful Europe built on the ashes of the ruined old one. But you can't talk public diplomacy without facing the sad and tumultuous state of affairs in Iraq, where efforts to win hearts and minds have not progressed much since Vice President Dick Cheney predicted, "We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."
But this is the State Department, where a genteel code of not saying painful things too directly prevails in public. So as Harlan Cleveland, a former assistant secretary of state and a top administrator of the Marshall Plan, described why the 1948 plan worked so well, you had to wonder. Was there, perhaps, a little criticism being aimed at the current administration?
Cleveland, almost 90, is a frail man who walks with a cane. And he didn't mention Iraq. But he reminded the audience that while Harry S. Truman was "one of the feistiest partisans ever to live in the White House," he didn't undertake major international projects without gaining bipartisan support.
And that the plan only worked because it required the Europeans to take the initiative and was not originally posed as an ideological campaign, just an effort to rebuild and recover.
As he and others reminded the audience of what may be the most famous line in Secretary of State George C. Marshall's 1947 speech at Harvard, announcing the plan, ("It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for our Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically"), perhaps the ominous word "unilaterally" hung in the air for a moment. You can never be sure when things are this subtle.
Schulberg has been traveling around the world for three years now, championing the movies made with Marshall Plan funds -- a body of some 300 films that show the power and sophistication of American propaganda efforts during the first, parlous years of the Cold War. Her usual audience is academics and university forums, and the occasional film festival. But her visit to the State Department, as a guest speaker at the Secretary's Open Forum (billed as an occasional forum to invite "new or alternative policy recommendations to the Secretary and other principals"), brings her work to the audience that might be able to make the most immediate good use of it.
There are few outside observers who believe that the United States is moving in the right direction when it comes to selling its vision of the world to audiences in the Middle East, or elsewhere, despite the recent appointment of ice skater Michelle Kwan as the nation's first "American public diplomacy envoy." Washington is awash in people muttering about the urgent need for better public diplomacy, but the current administration's attempts to reinvent it have met, mostly, with distress and sometimes mockery -- especially the first travels of Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, who encountered chilly audiences in her first forays to the Middle East.
Schulberg's presentation, which included a short film and extracts from others made for the Marshall Plan, reveals the fruits of a propaganda machine that was working on an entirely different level of sophistication than anything happening today. Before the clutter of television and the Internet, film gave governments exceptional access to the public's fickle attention span. But, as Schulberg argues, the success of those efforts depended on tone and sensitivity. She began her program with an excerpt from a film called "Hunger," made by the U.S. military in 1948, to explain to Germans why there was so little to eat on their tables.
"Hunger is another legacy of the Nazi war," hectors the unseen, authoritarian narrator, as ghastly images of poverty and starvation flash across the screen. The film's heavy-handed message boils down to: You started this war, now you're suffering. It reveals one of the overwhelming temptations of the public diplomacy business: To say things that make you feel good, rather than things that might effectively change the minds of others.
"That film did not go over very well," said Schulberg, adding that German audiences were so hostile it was forced out of theaters. The Marshall Plan films, she says, were different. They were made by European film directors, who were not closely monitored for ideological purity. The films were mostly positive, arguing that Europeans buy into the American plan for their mutual benefit. Imagery tended to be more appealing, brighter and optimistic. They didn't shy away from humor.
"Me and Mr. Marshall," made for a German-speaking audience, follows the everyday life of a young coal miner who notes that he works long, hard hours so that Germany can get its industry running again. After the war, he says, Germany had nothing to sell but a lot of scrap iron, "and lots of other countries were already well supplied." The tone is that of a young man who's been through a lot, but whose bitter-edged wit is the mark of a fundamentally optimistic survivor. It is knowing and establishes an intimacy with the audience.
Audiences in Europe, says Schulberg, were "sophisticated about the pitfalls of heavy-handed propaganda." German audiences reacted negatively to "Hunger" because they had become expert (if all too gullible) consumers of propaganda from one of its masters, Joseph Goebbels. The Americans were also competing with the determined efforts of the Soviets and communists to win public approval as well. Cleveland, the former Marshall Plan administrator, remembered villages filled with communist posters and rocks thrown in movie theaters showing films favorable to the Marshall Plan cause. But the films worked, Schulberg argues, and they may have reached an audience of more than 50 million people.
There were about 60 people at the forum, and many of them had fled by the time a woman, who announced herself a career foreign service officer back from Baghdad, brought up the issue of American public diplomacy in a part of the world where one recent poll put favorability ratings of the United States as low as 12 percent. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was not there, nor was the undersecretary for public diplomacy, Hughes, who is traveling to China with Kwan.
But Schulberg was ecstatic to bring the fruits of a different era of selling democracy to people who are in the business of selling it today. "I'm being heavily solicited," she said, and she was still at the State Department, hours after the forum had ended, handing out business cards.
New York Times, October 16, 2004
Democracy as a Brand: Wooing Hearts, European or Muslim
By Roger Cohen
It is a time of war, and an implacable enemy seeks to sully America's image, destroy its way of life and undermine its allies. Sound familiar? But the time in question here is not the present and the enemy is not Al Qaeda. This is the cold war, fought against the Soviet Union and played out against the backdrop of shattered post-war European societies vulnerable to the utopian chimera of Communism.
In such a critical struggle all means are good. Propaganda is central, victory begins in the mind and the heart is ever vulnerable to seduction. This push to win over European sentiments - call it public diplomacy if you will - was the central theme of a series of movies called "Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan 1948-53," shown this week as part of the New York Film Festival.
The 25 films were long hidden from Americans because of laws, now changed, that barred the government from using tax dollars to propagandize its citizens. So the movies fill a historical gap. They also appear at a time when the need to devise means to improve America's tarnished international image, particularly in the Islamic world, appears pressing.
By turns blunt and beguiling, menacing and mawkish, the films beg an overriding question: Why, with this experience behind it, has the United States failed so conspicuously since Sept. 11 to bolster its image in another region it seeks to transform, the Middle East?
After all, the expertise is here, on Madison Avenue, in Hollywood, at Foggy Bottom. So is unsurpassed technology. Freedom may be what America is about, but building a global brand is not far behind. These 50-year-old films illustrate that by taking something as potentially stultifying as former Secretary of State George C. Marshall's economic plan for Europe and turning it into the Marshall Plan brand, one with real razzmatazz, capable of washing those invasive Reds out of Europe's fabric. Yet now, attempts to reach out to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims flounder.
Perhaps one of the films in the festival program, "Me and Mr. Marshall" (1949), offers a clue to the reasons for today's public-relations debacle. It was made by the American occupation authority in Berlin, a body known as Omgus. The aim is straightforward: to humanize the economic vision for Europe first set out by Marshall at Harvard on June 5, 1947, in the hope of reinforcing a nascent West German democracy and binding it to America.
The chosen vehicle is a German miner laboring in the bombed-out Ruhr region, a man who introduces himself as: "Hans Fischer, age 26. Profession: optimist." He has gone to work because he needed a roof over his head, even if it was the 386-foot roof of a mine. But something deeper is at work in Fischer, who has been trying to figure out the reasons for Germany's plight and how the country can escape a destructive spiral.
Mr. Fischer knows, and scenes of destruction illustrate, that there is a real danger that "Europe might just go kaput." He has also concluded that "when people get hungry enough or cold enough or hopeless enough, they start to look for the easy answers - uniforms and slogans and violence and barbed wire." Regimented German figures in a menacing landscape reinforce these somber reflections. Not that again, please.
But, he has decided, there is an alternative: the American aid offered by Marshall - over $12 billion was disbursed between 1948 and 1951 - which will allow Germany to acquire machines to turn out goods that the world will buy, put food on tables and place money in citizens' pockets. Simple. Mr. Marshall's words unfurl across the screen: "It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of Europeans."
In other words: We'll give the money, you provide the initiative and over to you, Mr. Fischer. An American spark for a German engine is what is on offer. The young German leaps at the opportunity and concludes: "Name: Hans Fisher. Profession? Just call me a Marshall Planner."
This is scarcely rocket science, but there are elements here that merit reflection. The message is one of empowerment, not American domination or even tutelage. The hero is a citizen of the country that America seeks to influence. The film is made in Berlin; others were made by the Paris-based European Cooperation Administration set up to administer the Marshall Plan. They are the creations of Americans living in the region and immersed in its problems.
The path to liberal democracy is laid out in terms simple and personal, rather than ringing and abstract: a job, money, security, freedom. The title of another one of the movies, "It's Up to You," made by Omgus in 1948, amounts to a distillation of the American propagandists' theme.
Contrast all this with the post-9/11 efforts of the under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, a position created at the State Department to promote American values. The main target was now the Islamic world, and the job was initially entrusted to a former advertising executive, Charlotte Beers. But the films made, focusing on Muslims in the United States and their claim to have encountered no prejudice in American society, were widely regarded in Islamic countries as unconvincing, patronizing and ineffective.
These were videos whose main characters were in America, not the region concerned, and whose main message was the extolling of American values and society. Our system is great, they seemed to say; you Muslims can live like us, too. But surely there is a contemporary Hans Fisher out there - call him Ali Said - a young Arab trying to make his way amid the conflicting pressures of Iraq or Saudi Arabia, a hero who could be a far subtler vehicle for America's quest to instill openness and freedom in the Islamic world.
Of course, the analogies should not be pressed too far. Germany was defeated; in Iraq, conflict rages. The Internet and a plethora of 24-hour television networks, including Al Jazeera, mean that any American public diplomacy now faces much competition. Images of violence - in Iraq and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - militate against all American efforts to change perceptions: Gaza and Falluja merge in the Arab mind. The post-war State Department was full of Europeanists; this is far from the case with Arabists today. Where the Marshall Plan enjoyed bipartisan domestic support, no plan does today.
"Today there is so much noise and so little lucidity," said Sandra Schulberg, the co-curator of the film series. "But what you see in these films is a very concrete, very lucid approach to winning the peace in Europe, treating everything from hard-core economics to elusive concepts like optimism and hope. What they provide, with great specificity, is a guide to the ingredients of civil society."
Nowhere was civil society more threatened in the post-war years than in Italy, where the Communists came close to taking power. "Struggle for Men's Minds," made in 1952, traces the struggle to keep Italy in the West. After grim footage of Communist demonstrations, the movie cuts to more hopeful scenes: coal arriving from Pennsylvania, wheat from Illinois, machinery from Detroit. Communism, a narrator suggests, thrives on misery. The American assistance helps break its hold on Italians, who see that democracy "could actually achieve the good things that Communism could only promise."
A strong feel for central values of Italian life - family, community, church, land and sport - is evident in the movie. As the specter of Moscow's totalitarianism recedes, peasants laugh, old men play boccie, priests extol the values of freedom and kids gambol in village streets. Italians understand they can "pursue happiness in peace and freedom." Subtle it is not. But the film's American creators have grasped something essential about the society they seek to sway.
Throughout these movies, a simple message prevails: jobs bring money that opens possibilities enjoyable only in a free world - and best enjoyed in a uniting Europe. American economic aid is also political persuasion; it is timely because the threat from Moscow is real.
That threat is felt most vividly in "Without Fear" (1951), a riveting Technicolor animation that imbues the Communist peril with all the baleful menace of a monster in a children's story. In a totalitarian society, the narrator notes, "we could still walk in the sun, but we could not talk in it, because in a police state words are dangerous."
Where is the movie that treats the totalitarian jihadists of today, nihilists bent on the destruction of America, with a similar irrefutable directness? Yet Al Qaeda is more an ideology than a cohesive movement, a child of theInternet age bouncing its murderous ideas around the globe. The need for a nimble intellectual response and strong propaganda to counter it is great.
Ms. Schulberg, whose father, Stuart Schulberg, was responsible for making some of the films, has tentative plans to show them in Los Angeles and Boston next year, and possibly also in a New York commercial theater. "At this time," she said, "it is critical that they come out of the vaults." Not least, it seems, because they would bear wide scrutiny in Washington.
Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2005
How The U.S. Waged Peace After WWII
On screen this month: surprisingly subtle films of the Marshall Plan.
Kenneth Turan, Times Staff Writer
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved.
Once upon a time, a country won a great war but found itself uncertain about how to proceed in the aftermath of victory. How best to ensure that the enemy got on its feet economically? And, more important, how to encourage a revival of democracy in countries that had been under totalitarian rule for many years? How indeed.
Though the parallels to America's challenge in postwar Iraq are unmistakable and intriguing, the cataclysm that previously put America into that kind of a quandary was the Second World War. How we responded to those dilemmas is the subject of a fascinating and surprisingly relevant four-part series of rarely seen films -- at one time actually illegal in this country -- beginning tonight at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood. Its title says it nicely: "Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan, 1948-1953."
The economic part was shrewdly handled by the Marshall Plan, an aid package named after the secretary of State, George C. Marshall, who started it. Though the eventual cost was $13 billion (an estimated $90 billion in today's money), what has been called the genius of the plan was, in the words of the series' program notes, "not in sending money but in shipping fuel, fertilizer, food -- essentials for life -- and in sending machines and equipment -- essentials for recovery."
A key element of that recovery plan was the production of films candidly intended to influence public opinion and, as the title proclaims, sell democracy. A Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section was set up, headquartered in Paris but working out of 18 countries. Stuart Schulberg, the son of pioneering studio executive B.P. and the brother of writer Budd, was one of the heads of the section, and it is his daughter, Sandra Schulberg, who has spearheaded the creation of the current 25-film series.
The motion picture section made some 250 films, all shorts and most in the 20-minute range. In an era when audiences demanded shorts, the films played widely in theaters and had an extensive nontheatrical life in 13 languages as well: The Athens administrator of the Marshall Plan even hired boats to bring copies to the Greek islands. As a result, the prints of these films were pretty beaten up, which is where the Academy Film Archive stepped in to preserve a good percentage of the ones being screened.
The Los Angeles event is the first stop on a national tour for the Marshall Plan films (a different version of the series played at the Berlin and New York film festivals), and there are several reasons they make compelling viewing.
One is how rarely they've been seen. Until 1990, screening these films in this country was forbidden by Congress because Americans, the program notes explain, "were not to be 'propagandized' with their own tax money." In our more enlightened age, of course, it's apparently OK to use tax money to hire actors or consultants pushing a point of view while pretending to be objective newspeople.
The best reason to see the Marshall Plan efforts is the filmmaking skill employed in making them. Though a number are traditional documentaries heavy on voice-over narration, they were light on the most obvious propaganda: The program notes disclose that it was "an unwritten law" that "the Marshall Plan --and other informational objectives -- will not be mentioned more than twice in a one-reeler and three times in a two-reeler." And they are all quite enjoyable little films -- including some fine animation and a 39-minute drama starring Abbey Theater actors -- made with more subtlety than you might imagine.
The academy has divided its films into a quartet of themed evenings, with tonight's, called "Out of the Ruins," focusing on the different kinds of rebuilding that the war made necessary. "Between East and West," for instance, has a newsreel-type structure, dealing in stirring detail with the ins and outs of the Berlin blockade.
"Houen Zo" is the least traditional of the group, a poetically shot, wordless look at the rebuilding of Rotterdam, Netherlands, that won a prize at Cannes in 1952. And "Hunger," famous for dealing candidly with food shortages, was the most controversial, so much so that it was pulled from distribution.
The April 13 program, called "Help Is on the Way," smartly illustrates a series of Marshall Plan can-do success stories. "Extraordinary Adventures of a Quart of Milk," for instance, allows a singularly talkative quart to insist on telling its own story from farm to can. "Island of Faith," set on the Dutch island of Walcheren, illustrates in stirring detail how Marshall Plan funds help farmers reclaim land that was flooded in an attempt to stop the Germans.
The third program, "True Fiction," set for April 20, spotlights the times the Marshall Plan films ventured into the area of drama and docudrama. The Abbey Players film, "The Promise of Barty O'Brien," is a fully scripted effort about a traditional father and a son who wants to work in -- gasp! -- electricity. "The Smiths and the Robinsons," also scripted, amusingly details the jealousy between neighbors over who has a TV and who has a car.
The docudramas prove an especially fertile Marshall Plan area. "The Story of Koula" shows how a small village in Greece coped with the large and feisty American mules brought over as a substitute for scarce local donkeys.
"Aquila" is more adventurous, a story of a man desperate for a job told entirely in images without a word of narration or dialogue.
The final academy program, April 27's "Strength for the Free World," shows the emphasis the later Marshall Plan films put on fighting communism. This section has a pair of the cleverest films of the entire series. "Whitson Holiday" is a droll look at the different ways regimented Eastern Europeans and free-choice Westerners spend their spring vacations. "The Shoemaker and the Hatter" is a witty animated cartoon that convincingly makes a plea for a tariff-less European Union that was decades ahead of its time.
Of all the reasons to see this landmark series, its relevance to what has been happening in Iraq is the most absorbing, and not only because the administration has yet to come up with a comparable way to win the peace in the Middle East.
To see these films, to hear their talk about "the victory over the power of darkness," is to experience a postwar world where a positive attitude and hard work was all that was needed to succeed. It's also to understand why the simple, powerful rhetoric of World War II and the Marshall Plan has had such a seductive lure for today's policy- makers. We did it then, the powers in Washington are no doubt thinking, we can do it now.
How much of a parallel exists between postwar Europe and postwar Iraq, however, is a question history has yet to definitively answer.
GRAPHIC: PHOTO: HEARTS AND MINDS: Beginning tonight, the academy will screen 25 "Films of the Marshall Plan" on Wednesdays in April
DATE: April 6, 2005
Reuters.com, April 7, 2005
By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As the United States works to promote democracy in the Middle East, 25 short films from Hollywood's vaults about Europe's post- World War II reconstruction have a few ideas to offer. A series of movies, "Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan, 1948-1953," has been put together by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and after opening in Los Angeles on Wednesday will be featured at the Washington D.C. International Film Festival next week.
Series curator Sandra Schulberg said the films were made decades ago to inspire Europeans to help their countries by emphasizing local culture. Americans provided supplies, tools and know-how, but stayed off camera for the movies.
"It was up to them to decide what they needed, convey it to us and for us to supply it, and that sort of respect was reflected in the film program," she said.
Schulberg said the idea for the series came to her after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as she listened to "so much blather and partisanship" over how to spread ideals of western democracy to the Middle East. "Here was this extraordinary model that no one was paying attention to," she said. "Once I started looking at the films, I realized they were even more relevant than I had expected.
The Marshall Plan was first outlined by Secretary of State George C. Marshall in 1947. In subsequent years, the United States spent $13 billion to help rebuild a battered Europe after World War II. U.S. lawmakers often refer to the plan's success when putting together aid packages for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The films were funded by the Marshall Plan. Administrators including Schulberg's father, Stuart Schulberg, ran the program from Paris. All together, some 250 films were made.
The films chosen for "Selling Democracy" include titles such as "Hansl and the 200,000 Chicks," which looks at a program in which baby chickens were sent to children across Germany with manuals on how to make small hatcheries.
"The Story of Koula" tells of large American mules shipped to Greece that were too hard to handle for village elders until a gentle-minded boy shows them how best to prod the mules.
Many of the films were aimed at young people who were more likely to adopt new ways of doing things than were their parents, Schulberg said.
Washington Post, Sunday, April 10, 2005
By Ann Hornaday
On the heels of stories involving the appointment of Karen Hughes as a State Department undersecretary in charge of improving the U.S. image in the Middle East, as well as government-funded press releases masquerading as news stories, the timing for "Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan 1948-1953" could not be better.Twenty-five of the 250 short films made under the auspices of the Marshall Plan's motion picture unit and the U.S. Office of Military Government will be shown between April 15-18, organized into four programs. Curated by Sandra Schulberg, whose father, Stuart, was one of the chiefs of the motion picture unit, the series demonstrates the power of propaganda and even its artistry, when it's done right.
The Marshall Plan was predicated on really respecting the autonomy of these various recipient nations and forcing them, in fact, to get together and decide collectively who was to receive how much aid and for what," Schulberg says, an ethos that was reflected in the motion picture unit, which gave directors virtually free rein in deciding the form and content of their films. "They hired European filmmakers to make films that would communicate to other Europeans," says Schulberg, "not films made in Washington 3,000 miles away."The directors, several of whom went on to have successful careers, made animated films, documentaries, docudramas and full-blown short features, each reflecting postwar efforts in Europe to recover after devastatin physical, economic, political and psychic losses. They deal with issues from marshland recovery in the Netherlands to rice farming in southern France, from the supply chain of a quart of milk to the trials and tribulations of a young farmer trying to increase egg production. They convey a sense of irony and sophistication that is surprising, considering that they were government-sponsored. "The reason I think they're worth showing, apart from their political relevance, is that the films themselves are extraordinarily artful," says Schulberg. Ironically, the Marshall Plan films have been unavailable for public viewing for years, in large part due to an obscure 1948 law forbidding the U.S. government to propagandize its own citizens. Although legislation passed in 1990 loosened those strictures, the films, located in the National Archives, have still been difficult for general viewers to see.
The Washington Times, April 8, 2005
By Scott Galupo
When Sandra Schulberg started perusing the mountain of short films that played across Western Europe as part of the Marshall Plan for postwar reconstruction, it was a kind of personal exploration. Her father, the producer Stuart Schulberg (brother of "On the Waterfront" scenarist Budd Schulberg), for a time was head of the Marshall Plan film division in Paris. Then she discovered something: The movies, often brilliant in their context, are still relevant.
As in Europe after World War II, American policy-makers are once again hoping civil societies emerge from the rubble of dictatorships, this time in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now, as then, the process of democratization has collided headlong with a rival ideology. Then, it was Stalinism. Today, it's Islamo-fascism in the Middle East.
"I think these films have a great deal to offer," says Ms. Schulberg, U.S. project director and co-curator of "Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan, 1948-1953," a 25-movie series that begins April 15 at the Goethe-Institut as part of Filmfest DC.
"Selling Democracy," which has been on a national tour since last fall, has given Americans their first look at the Marshall Plan pictures. Before Congress reformed the relevant laws in 1990, the federal government was prohibited from using taxpayers' money to propagandize its own citizens.
"I'm not saying they're a blueprint, but these films offer a very good look at how democratization was done at another time," Ms. Schulberg says. "Some of the exact same issues we're dealing with today were dealt with before * intelligently."
Propaganda efforts in Iraq and the Middle East have so far yielded little in the way of affection for American occupiers or trust I American intentions. Charlotte Beers, a former advertising executive, briefly spearheaded a State Department-sponsored ad campaign called Shared Values, which showed Muslims living happily, prosperously and persecution-free in the United States. As Roger Cohen, author of "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo," observed in the New York Times, "These were videos whose main characters were in America, not the region concerned, and whose main message was the extolling of American values and society."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the campaign failed, with some Arab countries refusing to air the ads. Miss Beers quit after less than two years. Most of the Marshall Plan films -- more than 250 in all -- were produced natively in countries such as France, Italy and Germany.
Ms. Schulberg says the films -- like the Marshall Plan itself -- taught a vital lesson to Europeans. They explicitly emphasized -- and implicitly embodied -- each country's responsibility for its own destiny. They presented American financial aid as supplementary to local energies and talents, not as charity.
Crucially, Ms. Schulberg says, Marshall Plan aid -- more than $90 billion in today's money -- went to American companies, which shipped tangible goods such as fuel, fertilizer, food and machinery to Europeans. The Europeans received a material helping hand, but the onus of rebuilding their countries and national reconciliation fell squarely on them.
"It really imposed on Europeans the mandate to unite themselves," she says. "There was a concept of autonomy and respect for the recipient nations."
The parallels between then and now are inexact, to be sure. Continental Europe was already Western in orientation and was no stranger to liberal democracy. And the United States didn't occupy Europe -- except for West Germany immediately following the war -- as it has Iraq. However, Iraq does have its squabbling ethnicities and a history of exposure to Western commercial culture greater than the Arab norm. The emphasis of the early films is hope in the future, a common European destiny forged in mutually beneficial trade and commerce. As Soviet expansionism posed an ever-greater threat -- especially after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 -- the films took on a darker hue. The British "Without Fear," a striking animation piece soaked in blood-red, warns eloquently of the dangers of statism.
Hunger," produced during the pre-Marshall period of de-Nazification by the Office of Military Government/U.S. (OMGUS) in Berlin, essentially told Germans, "Don't feel sorry for yourselves; people are starving all over Europe." Its narrator delivers the stern slogan that in war"calories are casualties, too, just like men." It was tough medicine, and Germans wanted none of it. OMGUS authorities withdrew the movie because of German protests.
"Me and Mr. Marshall," perhaps the definitive selection of the series, stars a young German named Hans Fischer. He does what seems like immiserating work: picking at rocks at the bottom of a 386-foot mine shaft."Age 26," he says. "Profession: optimist." The young Mr. Fischer then goes on to explain, in simple, clear prose, why the Marshall Plan is essential for keeping Europe afloat.
"Aquila," a beautiful little neorealistic melodrama, follows a desperate Italian peasant struggling to put food on his family's table. Then, shipments roll in from the Adriatic Sea, carrying cargo emblazoned with the letters "ERP" (European Recovery Program, the official designation of the Marshall Plan). A refinery springs up in the countryside, and ordinary Italians revel in the hum and thrum of industry.
Jobs, food, security, a peaceful future: This is what Iraqis want, and that's what the Marshall Plan films sold. A signal difference between now and then, of course, is the degree to which the American artistic community is united in the goal of "selling democracy." It was then. It's not now. Frank Capra and John Huston have no modern counterparts. No matter how flat-footed American propaganda efforts are today, that's probably the greatest pity.
Toronto Globe and Mail, April 9, 2005
By Simon Houpt
NEW YORK -- It's a story ripped from the headlines: The United States government watches its powerful military overthrow a despot halfway around the world, then comes to the hard realization that the population it conquered will not automatically embrace an American way of life. To win the hearts and minds of the people in the land it now occupies -- many of whom are still fervent supporters of the toppled leader -- it throws hundreds of millions of dollars into propaganda efforts.
But if you're thinking the headlines are about modern-day Iraq and Afghanistan, think again. This is Europe, 1948. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. government has spent heavily to build satellite television and radio broadcasters that beam American-originated news and entertaining programming into hundreds of millions of homes and cafés throughout the Middle East. But few realize that the program has a stark precedent in the years immediately following the Second World War. The Marshall Plan, brainchild of U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, plowed $13-billion (U.S.) worth of material and technical assistance into rebuilding European factories, offices, homes and farms. Overseen by the Economic Co-operation Administration (ECA), the initiative, which ran from 1948 to 1953, was known formally as the European Recovery Program (ERP). But in addition to rebuilding, it also plowed about $650-million into information dissemination, including the creation of more than 260 films to help convince the populations of 16 disparate countries to jointly accept American aid and embrace U.S.-style democracy.
The films were seen everywhere, from movie palaces in big cities such as Paris to tiny, mountainous villages in countries like Portugal and Italy, where citizens strung up bed sheets to serve as makeshift screens. The films were carried by boat throughout the Gree islands. But until recently many of them had never been seen in the United States because of a 1948 law prohibiting Americans from being propagandized with their own tax dollars, a restriction removed only 15 years ago.
In 1995, Ed Carter, a curator at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, stumbled upon a collection of about 100 16-mm prints that had sat all but ignored in the organization's archives after a Marshall Plan filmmaker had donated them in the late 1950s. Under the title Selling Democracy, they are now emerging into the spotlight, with screenings of 25 titles this month in Los Angeles as a prelude to a multicity U.S. tour. A complete filmography can be seen at http://www.marshallfilms.org.
The films, which usually run between 10 and 20 minutes, are as varied in style as they are unwavering in their conviction. They include a gentle tale of children from across Europe playing together peacefully; a documentary about a once-proud French town that had fallen on hard times and was being revived by Marshall Plan money; a fable of an unemployed Italian worker who briefly turns to crime to feed his family,before finding a good job at a factory funded by the ERP; some newsreel-style shorts that warned Germans not to turn back to their fascistic past; and a lighthearted tribute to British citizens for their grudging willingness to forgo luxuries.
Today the U.S. government is engaged in propaganda efforts to win the hearts and minds of people throughout the areas in which it is militarily engaged. In Iraq, initiatives include the Iraqi Media Network: Al Iraqiya TV, the Al-Sabah newspaper, and a radio network. As well, the radio network Radio Sawa and the television channel Alhurra, both broadcasting in Arabic, reach across the entire Middle East via satellite. Some employees have complained of meddling from above. That is a particular concern in an area of the world where the intended audiences are already notoriously skeptical, having grown up with state-run media bloated with disinformation.
During the Marshall Plan era, although audiences were aware of the ERP films' American backing, skepticism was not a major concern. Many people in the tiny villages that peppered the countries involved had never before seen any films at all, and tended to believe what they were shown.
Still, George Marshall is praised by historians for his belief that his plan would work only if individual countries in Europe determined their own destiny (with occasional nudging by the U.S. when necessary, of course). "There was a tremendous respect for these countries," insists Sandra Schulberg, the U.S. project director for Selling Democracy, and the daughter of the second man to oversee the film division, the Hollywood producer Stuart Schulberg. "Marshall made it very clear that the initiative for recovery, and the decisions about how aid would be spent, should come from the Europeans." In the same vein, while the Marshall Plan Film Unit was headed by Americans who were either educated in, or grew up in, Europe, the films were made primarily by Europeans. Amy Garrett, a historian with the U.S. State Department, recently noted that the Film Unit understood that "you don't sell democracy to Danes . . . the way you sell soap in Sioux City." The result is a breadth of films that reflect the aspirations of Europeans who had embraced an American vision of a rebuilt and re-energized continent.
"I was interested in them as films, looking at the variety of styles they're made in," says academy curator Carter. "Some of them are straightforward newsreel-type presentations, but the vast majority of them are little stories. They're taken from the point of view of the local people: farmers, workers, business people in those countries. You could easily take a propaganda film and make just a dry treatise on the subject matter, but these are little story films, and they're shot in completely disparate styles of the different countries where they were made."
Even more than a half-century later, it is difficult to know exactly how effective the films were. But Schulberg notes that Volker Schlondorff, the German film director of The Tin Drum, was born in 1939. "He remembers being socialized, in a sense, by these films, seeing the films and posters as a child, and embracing them."
Not all the films found a receptive audience. 1948's Hunger presents images of starving masses around the world, and explains to its German audience that the victors were as poorly off as the vanquished. But during early screenings of the film in the U.S.-controlled zone, there were reports of argumentative shouts from audience members and nostalgia for the leadership of Hermann Goering. "Hermann wouldn't let us starve!" they yelled. "We want Hermann!" The film was pulled from distribution.
But the Marshall Plan filmmakers, trying to reverse years of effective propaganda in Germany, did not back off their attempts to deliver strong medicine. It's Up to You (1948) sketches prewar Germany as a placid country full of cultured and industrious people who were somehow sideswiped by the Nazi tide, and compares it to the postwar presen where creeping fascism is still a threat. While a narrator hectors the audience to choose between the right path of a democratic future, and one of fascism and violence, the film cuts with increasing urgency between images of sleepy meadows and armed storm troopers, between vast libraries of Goethe and terrifying book burnings.
By the early 1950s, the initial need to calm the population of Europe in the face of crushing privation morphed into a more serious challenge: confronting the growing Red Menace. The ECA became the Mutual Security Agency (MSA), which emphasized military security rather than just co-operation The 1952 film Struggle for Men's Minds, produced under the MSA, argues that the attempted Italian communist revolution of 1948 was defeated by the arrival of Marshall Plan goods: coal from Pennsylvania, wheat from Illinois, machines from Detroit. It shows Italian parents reading to their children about the glorious history of American democracy, encompassing Washington, Jefferson, Grant and Lee. "The light of freedom kindled men's minds," says the narrator.
Which doesn't sound so far off the message the U.S. administration is trying to take to the Middle East today. "What's wonderful about these Marshall Plan films is, there's so much partisanship now, whether it's about the invasion of Iraq or the situation in Palestine," says Sandra Schulberg. "These films shed real light on all of the issues we're facing today. But because the films are so old, they're not so threatening. Yet if you look at them, you really do get something to chew on."
The Berkeleyan, October 26, 2005
A man, a plan, a film series
For post-Nazi Europe, recovering from the ravages of war, the Marshall Plan meant billions in U.S. aid - and an unprecedented propaganda campaign aimed at "Selling Democracy"
By Barry Bergman, Public Affairs
George W. Bush, who scorned nation-building as a presidential candidate but embraced it big-time once in the White House, has invited comparisons of U.S. foreign policy - in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Africa - with the Marshall Plan, America's massive program of economic aid to Europe following World War II.
"SELLING DEMOCRACY" AT PFA
Thursday, Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m.
Program One: Out of the Ruins
Thursday, Nov. 10, 7:30 p.m.
Program Two: Help Is on the Way
Thursday, Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Program Three: True Fiction
Friday, Nov. 18, 2-4:30 p.m.
Panel discussion: "Selling Democracy: Productivity and Propaganda in the Service of American Foreign Policy"
Thursday, Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Program Four: Strength for the Free World - From War to European Union
Admission to the panel discussion, in the PFA Theater, if free. Tickets to the film programs are available through the Pacific Film Archive.
Those who care to make their own judgments on the validity of such comparisons can ponder fresh evidence from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1, when the Pacific Film Archive presents "Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan, 1948-53." The four-program series, which has been touring the country, features a retrospective of 25 short films rarely seen in the United States - a sampling of the 260-plus films produced under the auspices of the Marshall Plan to win over Europe's citizens to the cause of economic recovery and the democratization of Germany. At Berkeley, the series will also include a panel discussion with German-history scholar (and former chancellor) Robert Berdahl and others, moderated by Michael Nacht, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy.
The European Recovery Program - universally known as the Marshall Plan, after Gen. George C. Marshall, secretary of state under President Harry S Truman - provided billions of dollars in money and materials to war-ravaged European nations from 1948 until soon after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, when aid to Europe morphed into military support. Credited with speeding up the continent's economic recovery as well as restoring democracy to post-Nazi Germany, it extended the offer of aid even to the Soviet Union and East-bloc nations, which declined the help.
"The Marshall Plan was a relatively unique episode in American history," says Berdahl, who notes that the program had both altruistic and geopolitical motives. There was, he explains, widespread concern over "a shortage of food and basic materials to reconstruct normal life after the second World War throughout most all of western Europe, and eastern Europe for that matter." But Great Britain's announcement in the spring of 1947 that it was pulling out of Greece and Turkey added to "American concern about the left-leaning, pro-communist, pro-Soviet political moves that were developing in western Europe," a major theme of Truman's presidency.
A scene from Aquila, an early neorealist film that depicts the plight of an unemployed Italian laborer who's arrested for stealing. Fortunately for him, the authorities realize he's only trying to feed his family, and he ends up working at the Aquila refinery, which is being rebuilt with Marshall Plan aid. The 21-minute film, made around 1950, features a symphonic score performed by the Orchestra of Radio Trieste. It screens at PFA on Nov. 17.
"But what was unique about the Marshall Plan as a response - in contrast to the Truman Doctrine, which sent military aid into Greece and Turkey, and did so in an open contest with communism - is that the rhetoric around the Marshall Plan wasn't ideologically charged," Berdahl observes. Where Truman railed against Soviet expansion, many in the State Department were wary of what they viewed as an ideological crusade. Among them was George Kennan, best known as the "father of containment."
Kennan's argument, says Berdahl, "was that Soviet expansionism was age-old Russian expansionism that didn't have anything to do with communism, and that to get involved in an ideological conflict would only intensify the Cold War fever and mislead us from the effort we really needed to engage in to contain Soviet expansion."
If such arguments sound familiar, the resemblance is anything but coincidental. "Against the backdrop of current U.S. efforts to democratize Iraq and Afghanistan, the films of the Marshall Plan have particular resonance," writes curator Sandra Schulberg - whose father was the head of the Marshall Plan motion-picture section - in notes for the series. Lauding the plan's "almost universal reputation for its healing effect," she warns against "cloaking occupational forces in Marshall Plan camouflage."
Berdahl shares that perspective. "I think they're pretty specious," he says of efforts to link America's Middle East policy and the Marshall Plan. "I don't see much validity at all." For one thing, though Americans were promised that U.S. troops would be welcomed as liberators by Iraqis, the reality was vastly different from postwar Europe, where, except in Germany itself, the United States was indeed seen as having freed the continent from Hitler's yoke.
"Secondly, the idea that we could easily create a democratic system in Iraq ignored the tribal nature of conflicts and the containment of conflict historically," Berdahl goes on. "Germany clearly had much more of a foundation and experience upon which to build democratic systems. After all, they'd had constitutional governments for a hundred years, they'd had parliamentary systems of one form or another for three-quarters of a century - they'd had the kind of civil society that made it possible for democracy to take root.… So the idea that it would be easy to set up a democratic state that would be an example throughout the rest of the Middle East was, I think, palpably false, and stupid."
In Hansl and the 200,000 Chicks (1952; screening Nov. 10), the eponymous Austrian hero receives a consignment of Marshall Plan eggs and is soon outdoing his parents in egg production. By the end of the 15-minute film, Hansl is able not just to help support his family but to buy a bicycle for himself.
As for postwar Europe, Berdahl believes reconstruction owed more to practical considerations than ideological ones. "The German economic miracle was due largely to American aid, and the decrepit nature of the East German economy was due to Russia's stripping of it," he says. "But we attributed that to the failure of communism, and the success of capitalism."
Schulberg writes that, parentage notwithstanding, her interest in the Marshall Plan films developed only recently, "impelled in part by world events that unfolded following Sept. 11." Described by one Marshall Plan scholar as "the largest peacetime propaganda effort directed by one country to a group of others ever seen," the films have rarely been viewed since they were made, and - until a ban on showing U.S.-made propaganda to American audiences was lifted in 1990 - were off-limits to viewers here.
In addition to Berdahl and Nacht, the Nov. 18 panel discussion will include Richard Buxbaum, a professor of international law; Christina von Hodenberg, a visiting professor of history; and Schulberg. For more information, visit the PFA website at www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.
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MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE Editorial
IN SELLING DEMOCRACY, FILM TRUMPS BULLETS
The Walker will screen films from the Marshall Plan era.
Published: April 01, 2006
There was a time when the United States considered art, particularly film, a powerful tool for reaching out to the world. U.S. officials believed films created for the government by distinguished filmmakers were capable of stimulating social and political change abroad, and they were right, especially in the two decades that followed World War II.
Most Americans have never seen these government films, because federal law forbade their release in the United States. In 1990, however, an exemption was enacted for films that were a part of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the war.
Now the Walker Art Center will offer a rare opportunity to see some of the best films from the Marshall Plan Wednesday through Saturday evenings next week when it screens "Selling Democracy," seven hours of film in all that were aimed at Europe, especially Germany. It is not at all clichéd to advise that this truly is an opportunity not to be missed, for young and old; the films are powerful, poignant and thought-provoking.
These films were banned from the United States by federal law because they were classified as propaganda, which they are, but in the best and most precise meaning of the term. They were part of a broader, brilliantly successful American effort at "public diplomacy" -- activities from building cultural centers and libraries abroad to commissioning films and books. These activities promoted understanding of the United States and created mutual respect between Americans and those living in other places around the world. They engaged some of America's best minds from a multitude of disciplines.
Sadly, this spectacular effort (its films, for example, won honors at Cannes and an Academy Award for best short documentary in 1965) was allowed to wither away in the last days of the Cold War. Surely those seeing "Selling Democracy" will agree that was a monumental error; what a superb alternative public diplomacy would make to military might for engaging the people of the Mideast today.
Young people can learn a great deal from these films; the idealism, the hope, the can-do spirit seem so unlike today. The Berlin airlift of 1948-49, featured in one film, seems an impossibility. Feeding, clothing and medicating a city of 2.5 million by air? Importing enough coal, sack by sack, to warm and electrify Berlin? How could it be done.
Indeed, Operation Vittles, as it was called, was so complex it required sophisticated mathematical formulas to plot the logistics. But it was done because the Americans and French and British knew it had to be done and put their heads to seeing it through. The hurdles were big, but the resolve of the Western powers was bigger. We could use a little more of that spirit today.
One powerful film to be shown the first night of the screening, "It's Up to You," reminds Americans that what their country stands for and how it behaves really is up to them, just as choosing between militarization and peace, between communism and freedom was up to the postwar Germans.
These films have lessons to teach on many levels. They will be introduced by Sandra Schulberg, who organized the program and is the daughter of Stuart Schulberg; she was born in Paris shortly after he was named head of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section. The Walker also has arranged an impressive group of experts to engage in discussion of the films after each evening's screening.
Cultural events rarely get this much ink on editorial pages. But this is a very special happening. We hope Minnesotans of all ages will take advantage of the opportunity it presents to see some poignant history and think on lessons for today.
Copyright 2006 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.
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